Current Date: Sat, 08 Mar 2014 11:18:36 -0500
They came from 328 miles away, first by plane, then by bus, traveling with the speed of a horse-drawn carriage rolling through knee-high mud.
The Pittsburgh women’s basketball team began its odyssey to Chapel Hill two hours early Wednesday. Their Thursday night game against UNC remained on-schedule, immune to snow, ice and the threat of postponement. So, too, was Pitt — on schedule, on the road, ready to play.
“If North Carolina says, ‘Hey, the game’s still going on, the roads are fine,’ and we haven’t heard anything from the ACC saying the game is canceled, we’re going” said Nick Rivers, the team’s director of basketball operations. “We’re going to make it happen.”
The Panthers took off from Pittsburgh at 2 p.m. A choppy descent notwithstanding, they landed in Raleigh at about 3:15 p.m. They boarded a bus to their Chapel Hill hotel.
It took 20 minutes for their team bus to crawl 400 feet, said Ted Feeley, assistant director of media relations. It took another 10 minutes to leave the airport grounds.
It took an hour and 14 minutes, Feeley said, to drive 1.7 miles in a snow-induced bottleneck.
“Coming from up north, I don’t understand how people cannot drive in this weather,’” said Ashlee Anderson, a senior guard from Chicago.
Cars skidded off the road, sometimes into ditches. Exit-ramp areas became receptacles for wayward vehicles.
Mired in a standstill, staffers jumped off the bus to retrieve snacks and drinks from the undercarriage. Lightheartedness prevailed over the chill beyond their windows.
“It was actually a great bonding experience,” Rivers said. “Everybody was joking around, laughing, talking about the snow, talking about Duke-UNC getting canceled. It was great.”
An hour and 45 minutes after boarding their bus for a typically 20-minute ride, Pittsburgh arrived at its hotel. When Duke elected to stay behind for its scheduled game in Chapel Hill, Pitt’s legend began to spread.
Adam Lucas, a GoHeels.com columnist, retweeted a photo of the Panthers in their hotel lobby, adding a not-so-subtle allusion to the grounded Blue Devils.
But the voyagers weren’t keen on bragging. They had seen what the storm had wrought.
“I think it would have to be something really drastic,” Rivers said about postponing the Duke-UNC game, “and that was something really drastic.”
Pittsburgh planned to leave two and a half hours before its game Thursday. They wouldn’t take chances with the four-mile drive to UNC.
The odyssey was not yet done.